New library brings Internet to Haitian community
School children at the Matenwa Community Learning Center listen to a lesson. A new library built and furnished by Rotary clubs provides the children with access to the Internet. Photo courtesy Rotary Club of San Juan, Puerto Rico.
T he Internet has come to a small island off the coast of Haiti thanks to an international Rotary club effort and an Interact fundraiser.
Three Rotary clubs -- Port-au-Prince, Haiti; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Skidaway Island, Savannah, Georgia, USA -- and the Commonwealth School Interact Club of San Juan partnered to fund construction of a library in Matenwa on the island of La Gonave, Haiti. A Rotary Foundation Matching Grant helped furnish the library with laptops, books, and furniture.
The library adds on to the Matenwa Community Learning Center. Photo courtesy of Rotary Club of San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Even though the island has no electricity or running water, solar panels on the library roof power laptops, which connect to the Internet through satellite.
Every week, 236 students at the adjacent Matenwa Community Learning Center use the library, which also serves as a resource for La Gonave’s more than 7,000 residents, who live in extreme poverty.
"We were looking for a project where we could build relationships," explains Wells Hood, of the Skidaway Island club. "This was a great opportunity for us to make a lasting legacy."
Hood paid a visit to San Juan in 2005-06, during which he and then-San Juan club president John Richardson hit it off, discovering their clubs had much in common.
"We outlined a multicountry strategy that identified Haiti as one of five countries where we wished to make an impact," Richardson said.
After two other projects together in the Caribbean, the clubs turned their focus to Matenwa. The San Juan club had previous community service experience in Haiti, and the Interact club it sponsors holds a fundraiser for Haiti each year, which the club matches. The Interact members collected more than US$7,000 in 2006-07.
About that time, Richardson met Chris Low, co-director of the Matenwa Community Learning Center, who explained her community’s desire to build a library. The Port-au-Prince Rotary club served as host club for a $13,500 Matching Grant to equip it.
"Wells and I complemented each other enormously," Richardson says. "He was able to outline the strategy, while I put together the grant."
Members of the project team made a site inspection and certification visit in November.
"From the moment we set foot in Port-au-Prince to the second we boarded our returning flight, I had the opportunity to meet Haitians, Rotarians, humanists, and leaders from all walks of life," Richardson says. "It was the sense of dignity, pride, and purpose that the people of Matenwa shared with us that really stood out. My life is forever changed as a result of this experience."
The clubs are hoping the library will serve as a model for other schools on La Gonave.